Writing 101: Tips from an English T.A.

By Amanda Botfeld on October 16, 2012

marsdorian.com

 

 

As a T.A. for a college English class, I have graded a lot of papers. I have graded wonderful papers that moved me to tears. I have also graded papers that made stomach curdle and reminded me of moldy cottage cheese — fuzzy, lumpy, and rotten with linguistic bacteria.

After nine hours of grading papers this week and combing through hundreds of sentences, here are a few of my most important writing tips.

One of the most common mistakes I see are sentences that are written out of order. For example:

Sally makes money.

Sally buys a yacht.

Sally makes money through her excellent business skills.

vs.

Sally makes money.

She makes money through her excellent business skills.

This allows her to buy a yacht.

The second example is much more linear. Each sentence builds into the next, culminating into a clear and logical conclusion. There is no jumping back and forth between ideas. We finished talking about Sally’s money. Do not bring it up again. She is too busy on her yacht. 

Obviously, most college papers will be a little more sophisticated than this. But the message remains clear: when you finish a topic, move on.

How to Add Impact to Your Writing – The Easy Way

The easiest way to add power and impact to your writing is shifting from microchasm to macrochasm. This means writing about something small first and the larger context second – not the other way around. Too often I see this:

100,000 cows get slaughtered in the United States every ten minutes.

I have a cow named Bessie with beautiful eyes and a spot on her back.

Clear? Yes.  Sad? Yes.  Memorable? No.     Try this instead:

I have a cow named Bessie with beautiful eyes and a spot on her back.

100,000 Bessies are slaughtered in the United States every ten minutes.

Oh, the horror! But why is this way so much sadder? Because this is not just happening to any cow. This is happening to Bessie. It is far easier for a reader to connect to a specific example than it is to connect to data and statistics. Also, data and statistics are harder to visualize. By introducing a smaller, more palpable example first, the reader then has a chance to develop a personal connection – which can then be applied to statistics and larger societal concepts (i.e. factory farming).

 

Topics are Overrated

And finally, the worst kind of writing is boring writing. Trust me: if you were bored writing it, the reader will be bored reading it. If there is absolutely nothing you enjoy about the topic, focus on sentence structure. Write the most brilliant, beautiful, well-organized sentences your reader has ever seen. With this mindset, I can almost guarantee you that your grammar – and your grade – will blossom beautifully.

 

 

 

By Amanda Botfeld

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